UPDATE on April 10: American Airlines responded to our complaint and gave us vouchers. I emailed to ask whether I can post the full content of their email. I was very happy to finally get to have someone listen to us.
I've written a response to the FlyerTalk forum addressing your points here.
My husband and I are in the midst of having an extremely unpleasant experience with American Airlines during this Passover break. My husband is a law student and I am a teacher. We are not the wealthiest of consumers. However, we were excited and looking forward to our Passover vacation, which is why we booked expensive round-trip tickets at $324 per person out of DC heading to Chicago on Friday, April 9 at 8:20am.
We decided to save some money by taking the bus to the metro to the airport. This was a big mistake as we ended up in the airport at 7:50am. (Yes, we freely admit it was our fault that we were late to the airport). Nevertheless, since our flight was at 8:20am, we figured we'd still make it. After all, we were there a half an hour in advance. We tried to get in line to check in but then were told that the place to check baggage was upstairs. We went upstairs and were told it was too late to check our baggage. We headed back downstairs with the baggage, which we were now told they would accommodate by allowing us to take as a carry-on. An airline lady was trying to assist us and she went on ahead to try to get to our flight while we went through the security checkpoint. During the checkpoint, they discovered liquid in our baggage-turned-carry on and decided to look through the entire suitcase. The TSA also asked me to remove my hat. When I explained that I was a religious Jew, they took me aside and had a female pat down my hat to make sure I wasn't carrying anything problematic within it. We wasted about 10-20 minutes during this time.
When we finally got to the gate, it was 8:10am. The person manning the gate informed us our flight had left without us, despite the fact that it had been scheduled to depart at 8:20am. I had not known that planes reserve the ability to depart 15 minutes before departure time (as we later found out when my husband spoke to the manager). The gentleman manning the gate told the woman who had tried to help us that she ought to have called ahead and he would have held the plane for us. I got extremely upset and started crying. The man told me that it wasn't a problem; he would just roll us on over to Standby.
We then endured waiting for the following American Airlines standby flights: 10:00am flight, 12:00pm flight, 2:10pm flight and finally the 3:40pm flight. (Yes, we were in the airport shuffling around for over 7 and 1/2 hours). Due to the fact that this was Easter, Good Friday and Passover all rolled into one, American Airlines had overbooked and oversold all their planes. What this meant is that we were consistently bumped to being #6, 7, 8 or 9 in the standby line because passengers with actual tickets were the first five people on the list.
My husband talked to the manager about our situation. She said that they could issue us a refund for our tickets and we could reschedule them for a different day, but that was it. This wasn't exactly an option due to the fact that Passover and Yom Tov was happening that evening.
So instead, we waited as time and time again we were not called as standby passengers. I became very emotional and told the lady manning the booth that if we did not get on the 3:40pm flight, we would end up stranded in DC because we were observant Jews. As observant Jews, we cannot fly after sundown, and the 3:40pm flight was the last flight that would enable us to get into Chicago with enough time for us to get home before sundown. The lady said she would try to get us out of there but guess what...once again, we weren't called.
At around 3pm, I decided we needed to find a different way to get out of there- since American Airlines wasn't allowing us to rebook our tickets or fly standby. We booked one-way tickets on a 3:35pm United Airlines flight. It cost us $600 total. We got to Chicago in time to celebrate the Passover holiday.
Meanwhile, my father called American Airlines and spoke with a woman named Pamela. He explained that we had missed the first leg of our round-trip flight and he wanted to know whether the returning leg of the trip still stood. She told him that yes, that would be fine, and we were good to go with no additional fees or changes. Reassured, my father went into Yom Tov with good and happy spirits.
Last night (April 8) after Yom Tov had concluded, my husband received an email saying 'Your Trip is Now Eligible for Check-In.' When we attempted to check in, we received a red warning saying that this ticket could not be processed online and that my husband would have to see a ticket agent. I was worried about this and decided to call the airlines to figure out what was going on. I was then informed that in fact, if you miss the first leg of your round trip ticket the entire ticket is void and gone. The only way to proceed is to pay the difference between the amount you paid for your round-trip ticket and what is now a one-way ticket, plus a $150 change fee.
We protested that a) my husband had been told by the American Airlines manager in DC that he could get a refund for the ticket b) my father had been told by Pamela that we could still take the second leg of the trip and c) we had at no time been notified of this policy. In fact, we had received the very misleading automated email that said 'Your Trip is Now Eligible For Check-In' which in no way informed us that in fact, our trip had been cancelled and was now gone and my husband's seat had likely been sold to someone else. (You can read more about this unpleasant and irrational phenomenon here and here). When speaking to two extremely unhelpful supervisors (especially the female one), we were informed that this information regarding the round trip policy had been in the fine print of the agreement we made with the airport when we purchased our tickets. Furthermore, she claimed that our first ticket had not been a standby ticket and that the airport had been doing us a favor when they tried to have us fly standby in the first place because they were under no obligation to do so.
Here are my questions on this matter:
1. Why is it that no one in DC, including the man who rolled us over to standby from our first missed flight, told us that they were doing us a favor and that this was not standard policy? We were told that this was standard.
2. Why is it that even though we explained to every single person that would listen that we were observant Jews and thus had a certain time past which we could not fly, that was not taken into consideration when it came to the order of passengers on the Standby list? There were other passengers who could easily have taken 5pm flights; we, on the other hand, could not.
3. Why did the American Airlines manager in DC claim that we could receive a refund on our ticket?
4. Why did Pamela tell my father that we could still fly the second leg of our trip even if we had missed the first leg of it?
I feel very frustrated by the lack of transparency and the unwillingness to work with the customer in this situation. When it comes to your driver's license, you amass points; it doesn't necessarily automatically get taken away the first time you are caught speeding. Yet even though this was the first time that I or my husband had ever missed a flight (and we've taken many flights on American Airlines), we were treated like we had deliberately attempted to defraud them.
Furthermore, while I am aware that it is not necessarily the airline's responsibility to accommodate the religious beliefs of its customers, surely if it had been explained to the people who were first in line on the standby list that there were two people who would literally be stranded without food they could eat for the Passover holiday unless they got on a flight by a certain time, they would have been willing to allow us to take their places. It would certainly have been nice of the airline to at least consider the religious customs of its consumers.
Third, while it may be true that the fine print that you click when you buy a ticket online tells you this information about your not being able to take the second leg of your flight if you miss the first leg of your flight, I would wager that the majority of consumers do not know this unless they are frequent flyers. Thus, there ought to be an automated system that sends an immediate email notification to a customer who has missed their round-trip flight that says 'You have missed the first leg of your flight. Your round trip is now void. Please take the following steps to reschedule.' Had we received such a clear, transparent email about American Airline policies, we would then have been able to take the steps that would have prevented me from being in a situation where, since I reached out to them tonight, I was informed I would have to pay $400 on top of the $324 we had already paid in order to take a 6:40am flight tomorrow morning from Chicago to DC.
And fourth, there was no consistency when it came to the message we were given. The manager in DC claimed we could get a refund. Pamela said we could take the second leg of our flight and all would be well. The supervisors I talked to tonight told me that if you miss the first leg of your flight, you are screwed. Why is there not one clear, easy-to-read policy that every employee is aware of so that they can all give the same, non-contradictory answer?
What this comes down to is that my husband and I have now spent over $2000 to fly from Chicago to DC and back for this Passover holiday. We might as well have booked an international trip. And all of this because we missed....one flight.
The moral of the story? Never be late to the airport. But more importantly, never fly American Airlines.